Possibly because the notion of Critical Race Theory is so vague to most conservative voters, when Republican Glenn Youngkin, then-candidate for Virginia governor, ran for office, he labeled himself as the “parents’ rights candidate” by attempting further to instill fear on the part of the white electorate.
He raised his racist bullhorn by declaring not only his intent to ban Critical Race Theory the day he is elected but also to outlaw the reading of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel by author Toni Morrison, Beloved, which was turned into a major feature film.
Beloved, a truthful and painful story of the lives and loves of two enslaved black people in the U.S. South, has become an integral part of the cannon of not only African American literature but of U.S.-American literature generally.
After winning the Virginia gubernatorial election and with the support of the Virginia state legislature, new bills to limit the teaching of our country’s true past have circulated throughout the Virginia statehouse.
House bill No. 781, proposed by Republican Delegate Wren Williams, prohibits “divisive concepts” from instruction in Virginia public elementary and secondary schools. While Williams made clear his opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, the wording “divisive concepts” in its vagueness closes the door on the teaching of anything and everything conservatives deem appropriate and necessary to ban.
In the wording of the bill, Virginia’s social studies curriculum will be standardized (a.k.a. controlled and regimented) and educators will teach about, “founding documents of the United States,” like “the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.”
Even Virginia’s elementary and secondary school students, I would hope, know so much more than the legislators attempting to enact severe constraints on curriculum and pedagogy throughout their systems of “education.”
By the 5th grade, students should have learned about the “Lincoln-Douglas” debates of 1858 in Illinois between incumbent Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas and Lincoln, his Republican challenger in the race for U.S. senator. The major topic during the series of seven debates included the candidates’ views on whether new states joining the union would permit or prohibit slavery within their borders.
In Youngkin’s inauguration speech on Saturday, January 15, 2022, he seemed to talk from both sides of his mouth when he promised, “We will remove politics from the classroom and re-focus on essential math, science and reading. And we will teach all of our history the good and the bad.”
Then within an hour following his speech, he immediately signed 11 executive orders including lifting the mask mandate for Virginia schools and ending the vaccine mandate for state employees in a school system and state with increasingly rising infection rates.
Wanting to be known as “The Education Governor,” one of his executive orders ends the use of “divisive concepts” in schools such as Critical Race Theory, which is not currently part of the curriculum.
One day later in an interview on Fox, Youngkin doubled down on his misunderstanding, the perpetuation of misinformation, and yes, the politicization of the teaching of the legacy of racism and race relations in the United States.
“We are not going to teach the children to view everything through a lens of race. Yes, we will teach all history, the good and the bad. Because we can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we have come from. But to actually teach our children that one group is advantaged and the other disadvantaged because of the color of skin, cuts everything we know to be true.”
So, whom does Youngkin designate as “we” in “everything we know to be true”?
The Virginia governor and state legislature pose a great and common example clearly demonstrating why politicians cannot and must not dictate the parameters of what educators teach in the schools throughout the nation.
Professor and Executive Director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton, Shelley Inglis, studies authoritarian leaders around the world and came up with a list of ten common markers characteristic to many.
One maker states that authoritarians appeal to populism and nationalism. While “populism” encompasses a range of political stances emphasizing the idea of siding with “the people” against the so-called “elite” and can exist on the political left, the right, or the center, right-wing populism co-opts the term and juxtaposes nationalist and nativist aims. This form of populism we have clearly witnessed during this era of Trumpism.
Another of Inglis’ markers of authoritarianism is the control of information at home (propaganda and stifling of truth in schools, the media, and the larger society) and misinformation abroad.
Though Youngkin is but a petty autocrat in one state, his influence has become immense since winning the Virginia statehouse. The larger Republican Party is taking several pages from his political playbook by first, straddling the line between embracing Trumps’ brand of populism while keeping a certain distance from the twice impeached failed president.
Secondly, they have implemented Youngkin’s successful tactic of scaring parents and other community members with the false flag of “Critical Race Theory” by banning age-appropriate truthful education of young people to the realities of our history.
While Youngkin promised to allow the teaching of our history, “the good and the bad,” the schools will continue to teach a watered-down whitewashed version of what students need to know to help our country come to terms with and begin to heal from the violations to human and civil rights of the past.
Before Youngkin won his election and continuing to the present day, since January 2021, Education Week has found that 32 states have either introduced bills in their legislatures or have taken other actions that would ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory or restrict how educators discuss racism, sexism, and LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Thirteen states have already inflicted these restrictions.
Just think about it: States are passing laws and enacting executive orders banning the teaching of how the states passed laws banning the teaching of enslaved peoples under the apartheid system of U.S.-American slavery.
They are passing laws and enacting executive orders banning the teaching of how the states passed laws banning voting rights of people of color.
These very laws and executive order banning the teaching of the true legacy of race confirms one of the primary characteristics of Critical Race Theory: that racism is a permanent feature of the U.S. political and social system.
These laws challenge any reality, any truth that contradicts the pablum we are fed as young people of the nationalist narrative that this country functions as a meritocracy: that the individual succeeds or fails based chiefly on their merit, from their motivation, abilities, values, ambition, commitment, and persistence, rather than on their backgrounds or social identities.
Autocrats have a vested stake in withholding the true accounting of our past.